Remember the PC? Well, the party is over, so time to pack it up, ladies and gents. You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.
That was the impression Apple gave at Wednesday's iPad unveiling event, in which CEO Tim Cook made several references to the "post-PC era" and the iPad's role in hastening its arrival. As evidence, Cook noted that the 15.4 million iPads Apple sold last quarter surpassed the quarterly PC sales of HP, Dell, Lenovo and Acer.
The iPad is popular with business travelers because it is easier to haul around than a notebook. Apple has also set up a predictable cycle of adding new features without raising its prices, giving customers the impression that they're getting plenty of new value with each release. And after unveiling the new iPad, Apple also dropped its pricing for the iPad 2 by $100.
"The iPad seems to improve at a rate that the consumers are demanding," said Marc A. Wolfe, CEO of Proactive, an Apple specialist in Oakland, N.J. "Many of our clients that have both iPads and laptops are starting to use the iPad more. With a few more revisions, I could see it becoming their primary device."
Cook has said previously that customers are choosing iPads over new PC purchases, and that this cannibalization effect is more pronounced with Windows PCs than with Macs. Aware of this trend, some system builders are finding to necessary to adjust their business approach.
Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder, said in response to the trend, his company is increasing its focus on enterprise servers and data center business. "Getting by selling PCs is a tough business," he said. "It's not like Windows 8 is going to bring back the glory says of the system builder."
Despite the iPad's momentum, companies in the PC market aren't giving up just yet. Tablet market also-rans like HP and Cisco often point to the security and management issues associated with iPads in the enterprise, though mobile device management and desktop virtualization -- which many organizations have deployed with iPad projects -- have proven effective at dealing with the risks.
Apple rivals also claim that the iPad is designed for content consumption, and doesn't pass muster when it comes to getting work done.
"Unlike desktop and laptop form factor devices, iPad has a hard time with content creation, including critical business workloads like word processing, complex spreadsheets, mission-critical line-of-business applications and the like," said Andrew Brust, CEO of Microsoft analyst firm Blue Badge Insights, based in New York City.
While Apple certainly has its feet planted in the future, it isn’t clear that the future will be a non-PC world, according to Ari Harrison, a network engineer at Silicon East, a Manalapan, N.J.-based solution provider. "While many business users will continue to buy the iPad, I believe that the corporate world will remain PC-centric," he said. "The iPad isn’t a PC replacement yet; for now it’s a PC adjunct."
As Microsoft prepares to launch Windows 8, bringing its legacy PC business and nascent tablet business forward in a single OS release, ultra-thin notebook vendors and Windows tablet makers are gearing up to release products they hope will give pause to would-be iPad buyers.
Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider, thinks the apocalyptic talk about the PC's demise has been overblown. "I don't think PCs are going away," he said. "What will happen is that as mobility grows, the traditional desktop format will disappear as notebooks become more powerful and feature-filled."
"If you want the form factor, the ability to perform simple, repetitive workflows, and you don’t mind the monthly fees to stay connected, tablets are awesome," said Travis Fisher, executive vice president at Inacom Information Systems, a Salisbury, Md.-based solution provider.
Added Fisher: "But if you want the flexibility to do anything, prefer the advantages of storing data on the local system, and the anticipated longer lifecycle of a real computer, notebooks are best.
As mobility and cloud computing continue to grow, Apple will continue to play up its leading role in the new category it claims it created. Other companies, like VMware, have also been invoking the term post-PC era to distance themselves from the legacy dinosaurs of IT. But in Brust's opinion, the term is just a way for companies to avoid saying what they really mean.
"Apple is using it as a euphemism for post-Windows," he said. "And if that’s their go-to-market message, then they should use that, stand behind it and let people evaluate its credibility."